You are not old enough to read this now, but I don’t want to grow any older before I write it because as you will learn only a few times less than I hug and kiss you in this life, people are dynamic. Our perspectives and stories are continually changing. The aunt I am now is not the aunt I will be when we both realize our roles have reversed and suddenly you are the one helping me tie my shoestrings. Actually, don’t worry about the shoes then. Just bring me coffee.
Very soon, you will turn two years old when I am on the tail end of my twenties. That means I’ve been on this playground over a quarter century longer than you. You would think that the head start has made me wiser, but my purpose in writing is to share what you have taught me. (As an aside, you should know that my favorite thing you do right now is spontaneously cross your fingers. You don’t know what the gesture means, just that you can do it, so I love to catch you walking around or sitting on the couch with those little digits curled around each other on both hands… willing luck into the world and hoping for the best without even realizing it.)
Your influence on my life and the way I hope to keep thinking actually began a couple months before you were born. I had never held a baby or even been in one’s vicinity longer than it took to say “Someone needs to change that child’s diaper,” so I signed up for a Babysitter’s Training class put on by the American Red Cross. I spent a day learning how to take care of the precious cargo that is you with a group of 11- and 12-year-old girls who had far more experience and confidence with babies and mini-mannequins than I did. I still have the certificate. I still don’t change diapers. I learned some valuable lessons that day, but they all seem to pale in comparison to the live-action adventures you’ve shared with me since then.
When We First Met
When I was a newspaper reporter, one of the most important lessons I learned was that I did not need to make a sad story sad or a funny story funny. I just needed to present the story as it was and let the details speak for themselves. Nothing is more powerful than authenticity. For the most part, I grasped that concept when it came to my writing, but you showed me how it applies to people. Adults tend to complicate their relationships by assuming they know what their partner needs when they are upset, but in spite of the thousands of ways we manage to find ourselves in thousands of different messes, the sources of our discomfort largely boil down to one of three things: we are hungry, we aren’t being heard or we just want to be held. The sooner we realize the source of the problem and keep the solution simple, the better friend, sibling, parent, or lover we will be.
In keeping with what your tears have taught me, I never fully understood the power one word could pack until I grabbed a ketchup bottle from you at dinner and uttered “no” to avert disaster, but ended up starting World War III. Or that time I said we would go outside and failed to remember that you operate in present not future tense and “outside” means “now” and “indefinitely.” I remember reading a verse in the Bible once that said, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No,’” but you drove it home for me. Because of time spent with you, I am learning the importance of saying what I mean and meaning what I say. I still struggle with this, but you’re keeping me honest and teaching me how to be a better promise keeper.
I have had a lot of nicknames bestowed upon me in my life and I will make you privy to most of them, but my heart has never melted or been so happy as the first time I heard “Momo” come from you. Even though I do not get to see you every day or as often as I would like, your parents and Grammy have been great about teaching you my name and face with practice and pictures. So much so that we once went to dinner together and you stopped to say “Hey, Momo” multiple times throughout the meal because you were so proud that you recognized me. That act might seem small, Brayden, but sometimes the best thing you can do for people is acknowledge their presence and that you are happy to see them. At times, we all feel forgotten, and that moment still lifts me like few other memories do.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, your addition to this world has served as somewhat of a time machine. When I see you with Grammy and Poppy, who I’ve always known as Mom and Dad, I get to see Susan and Ed as they were when I was too young to fully understand and appreciate the love, care and attention they showed me. You’ll realize the same thing about your parents one day. We are so very lucky, little man. Don’t forget it, and thanks for reminding me.
Beach Buddies, 2009